The Local Studies Library Project: save Croydon’s local history
The Local Studies Library has been one of my happiest discoveries since I moved to Croydon in mid-2011. The first time I visited, in search of information about the history of London Road, I was amazed not only at the depth and breadth of the material but at the helpfulness and extensive knowledge of the staff.
I started getting properly interested in local history about a year ago, with no previous experience of archive-based research. For someone like me, there’s a huge difference between a casually-staffed, rarely-open, by-appointment-only room full of items (the likely outcome of the proposed cuts) and the current service, with its accessible opening hours and knowledgeable staff. Several times I’ve seen first-time visitors wander in with a tentative query, perhaps a little unsure of themselves, to be greeted warmly by the staff and offered help with their query; and by the end of the afternoon they’re excitedly chatting to other library users about the information they’ve discovered.
Indeed, the staff are part of the reason why I don’t believe the archive service should be cut, even for a temporary “tightening of the belt”. They’ve helped me find sources that I’d never have known to look for on my own: sales particulars going back to the 1800s, ephemera such as receipts and recipe books, unpublished research, and other library users with interesting things to say about my area of interest. There’s a huge amount of knowledge in their brains, both regarding Croydon and regarding the collection itself. If we let them go now, we lose that — and given the quality of their work, it’s unrealistic to expect them to still be on the job market if funds were restored in the future.
The Local Studies Library and Archives Service is used by a diverse cross-section of the population — all ages, all social classes, all ethnicities. It’s a place where we can learn about and become proud of our past, and I think it’s one of the most important tools we have as we move forward to shape Croydon’s future.